Rob Manfred optimistic about new posting system with NPB

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed optimism about a new posting system that would allow two-way star Shohei Ohtani to leave Japan for Major League Baseball, even as reports surfaced that the Major League Baseball Players Association has set a deadline to sign off on an agreement.

MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball have reached accord on a new posting system, and Dan Halem, MLB's chief legal officer, said Wednesday that he expects a deal to be in place by early December to govern Ohtani's transition to the major leagues.

But FanRag Sports and the New York Post reported that the union has set a Monday deadline to give its consent -- a prerequisite for Ohtani to leave the Nippon Ham Fighters and play in the majors. A negative response from the MLBPA would scuttle Ohtani's plans to leave Japan for the United States.

Manfred, meeting with reporters on the final day of the MLB general managers and owners meetings, characterized the remaining issues as "resolvable.''

"I don't sense that this is a disconnect with the union,'' Manfred said. "These are relatively small issues. I think it would be a mistake to read any larger significance into the fact that they're trying to work out a way to get on board with an agreement that we negotiated with the Japanese. It's a cumbersome process when you have three parties. There are issues, but I don't think they're earth-shattering."

Ohtani, known as Japan's "Babe Ruth,'' is 23 years old and short of the age-25 threshold that would allow him to leave the Nippon Ham Fighters as an unencumbered free agent. MLB and Nippon Baseball agreed to grandfather Ohtani and allow him to leave under the old system. But the union is reportedly concerned that his Japanese team, the Fighters, will collect a $20 million posting fee while Ohtani can earn a maximum of $3.53 million from his new MLB club.

The players' association, through a spokesman, declined to comment when contacted by ESPN on Thursday.

"I think the remaining issues should be resolvable,'' Manfred said. "We're satisfied with the way the discussions went with the NPB. We reached a good set of understandings with them that would be effective for us going forward. The (players' association) needs to resolve the issues that they have.''

Manfred addressed several other issues in a news conference on the final day of the meetings:

  • He said new pace-of-play rules will go into effect in 2018 either through negotiations with the union or by a unilateral directive from MLB. Those changes are likely to include a pitch clock and a limit on catcher visits to the mound.

"My preferred path is a negotiated agreement with the players,'' Manfred said. "But if we can't get an agreement, we are going to have rule changes in 2018, one way or the other.''

  • He praised the new Miami Marlins ownership group led by billionaire businessman Bruce Sherman and former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. He called Sherman and Jeter "the right people to move that franchise forward.''

Manfred said he's not concerned that one of the group's first orders of business is potentially shopping star right fielder Giancarlo Stanton because of payroll issues. Stanton signed a 13-year, $325 million contract under the Jeffrey Loria ownership group in Miami. The Marlins reportedly want to reduce their payroll from a franchise-record $115 million to $90 million and they've been exploring the trade market for Stanton, who led the majors with 59 homers, 132 RBIs and a .631 slugging percentage this season.

"I think that it's important for new owners to come in, evaluate the state of their franchise, decide where they think they're headed long term and kind of write with a clean slate,'' Manfred said. "I think it's unfair, really, to criticize a decision -- if it turns out to be the decision -- to move a player who has a contract that somebody else negotiated.

"New management often comes in with a different idea about how to put the best product on the field. Whatever decisions are made, I hope the fans in Miami give Bruce and Derek an opportunity to show what their plan is for moving that franchise forward.''

  • He said baseball continues to look into complaints that the baseballs were different this season and led to a continued increase in home runs. Those concerns resurfaced in October when Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander and others complained about slicker baseballs in the World Series.

"We monitor what's going on with the baseball on an ongoing basis,'' Manfred said. "There's going to be activity on that front, and we'll have more to say on that at some point during the offseason.''

  • He said he has worked to stop improprieties in international signings.

Atlanta general manager John Coppolella resigned Oct. 2 along with special assistant Gordon Blakeley. On Wednesday, the Pittsburgh Pirates said they wouldn't renew the contract of Latin American scouting director Rene Gayo. Both clubs said the moves occurred after an investigation revealed rule violations.

"Going back to the very first time that I addressed the general managers after I was elected, I told them that one of my goals was to be more diligent with rest to the enforcement of all of our rules, but particularly our rules as they affect the signing of international players,'' Manfred said.

  • He repeated that no decisions on expansion will be made until after Oakland and Tampa Bay resolve their quests for new ballpark.

Denis Coderre, the Montreal mayor who pushed for MLB's return to the city, was defeated last week in his bid for re-election.

"I'm not sure who's going to be the mayor of Montreal at that point,'' Manfred said. "I do know that it would be extraordinarily unlikely for baseball to return to Montreal without some concrete plan as to where a team would play. We're not going back to playing in Olympic Stadium.''

The Associated Press contributed to this report.